Marching Songs Created Harmony and Unity Among the WASP

by Logan Walker

Who's that yonder flying like an ace?
She rides the skies with a lazy grace.
She's dressed in blue and her pride you can see.
No, you don't have to guess, you know it's W-3.

 WASP marching in formation at a graduation ceremony, Avenger Field. (Photo credit: National WWII WASP Museum)

WASP marching in formation at a graduation ceremony, Avenger Field. (Photo credit: National WWII WASP Museum)

So goes the WASP marching song “Do You Have Your Wings?" one of many tunes that echoed among the ranks of busy female flyers as they went about their daily activities.

Lieutenant Alfred Fleishman, March and Drill instructor for the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), once remarked, “A singing army is a fighting army” and his trainees and their successors did not fail to uphold this conviction with gusto. For the women of the WASP, singing was an important aspect of paramilitary life, one that helped recruits bond while providing a healthy dose of levity and fun.

Most WASP compositions were popular songs of the day with lyrics re-written by the pilots themselves to better fit their particular experiences. These playful and sometimes saucy classics-in-the-making were then passed down through the classes, giving incoming pilots the opportunity to occasionally make their own mark with the lyrics.

One such song, “Deep in the Heart of Texas” is a variation of the popular 1941 standard of the same name. Recorded by crooners like Perry Como and Bing Crosby, it sung the praises of the Lone Star State, with such lyrics as:

The stars at night are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas
The prairie sky is wide and high
Deep in the heart of Texas

The ladies of the WASP expressed a more humorous take in their version:

We "darn" near freeze in these open PT's
Deep in the heart of Texas,
We're never at ease in these big BT's
Deep in the heart of Texas.
If you don't lock the latch, you'll fall out of the hatch
Deep in the heart of Texas,
If you don't relax you'll be in Air Facts,
Deep in the heart of Texas.

Even a cursory look at some of the lyrics from the WASP songbook give an observer the distinct impression of the boisterous and endearingly mischievous personalities that wrote and sang them. Not even Lieutenant Fleishman was safe from the playful sing-song of the WASP girls, appearing in a song set to the melody of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that announced:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of my biceps bulging out,
Mine ears have heard the story of Lieutenant Fleishman's shout
My teeth have felt the gritty sand that we all gripe about
The 319th flies on!

Another spirited and infectious standard is “I’m a Flying Wreck”, adapted from “Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech”, a Georgia Institute of Technology fight song, circa 1908. Once WASP-ified, some of the lyrics, penned by Thelma P. Bryan (43-W-5) read:

I'm a flying wreck, a 'riskin' my neck and a helluva pilot too!
A helluva, helluva, helluva, helluva, helluva pilot too!
Like all the jolly good flyers, the gremlins treat me mean
I'm a flyin' wreck, a 'riskin' my neck for the good ole 318!

If I had a PT sir, I'd paint it blue and gold,
I'd take it up 5000 feet and make the damned thing roll!
Oh, if I had a PT sir, I'd fly it off in the sky.
I'd circle over Germany and spit in the Fuehrer's eye!

Like many other of the tunes sung through camp, “Gee, Mom, I Wanna Go Home” poked fun at the Army lifestyle, with its references to coffee that “tastes like iodine” and chicken so sturdy it could kill on impact. A classic song often sung within the Armed Forces, “Gee Mom” was altered somewhat to fit the specific needs of the WASP girls but the broader strokes of the tune remain more or less the same.

One favorite, “Zoot Suits and Parachutes” paid tribute to the WASP uniform of loose mechanics overalls, nicknamed “Zoot Suits” by their less-than-enthused wearers. A re-worked version of the British song “Rosemary Lane”, “Zoot Suits and Parachutes” tends toward the bawdy in it’s recounting of a girl who is seduced and left pregnant by a pilot. Frequent salty language and allusions to such bawdy themes are not uncommon in WASP songs and reportedly did not always amuse director Jacqueline Cochran.

Sometimes sung amongst the girls was the similarly risqué “Inky Dinky Parle-Vous”, known during WWI as “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.

Another favorite, “Buckle Down, Fifinella” cheered on a figure familiar to the WASP. Fifinella, the female gremlin that served as a mascot for the pilots, was designed by Walt Disney based on a character originally devised by Roald Dahl in his book The Gremlins. 

Buckle down, Fifinella, buckle down,
You can win, Fifinella, if you'll buckle down,
You can really fly, if you'll only try,
Take it way up high and bring it down.
Six to go, Fifinella, don't be slow,
Stay an eager beaver, you'll be in the show.
Don't get in a spin, take it on the chin,
And you're bound to win, If you will only buckle down.
If you fight, your luck will not retreat,
If you work, you'll overcome defeat,
Buckle down, Fifinella, buckle down,
Don't you frown, Fifinella, You'll get off the ground,
We'll count every day and we'll make it pay,
For we're here to stay,
Because we're gonna buckle down!

Fifinella, like her fellow gremlins in the story, aided the RAF in repairing British aircraft and fighting the Nazi threat. Fifinella lent her name to the WASP publication “The Fifinella Gazette”, and appeared on patches affixed to the jackets of numerous WASP as they went about their duties..

Here are a few more examples of WASP popular songs:

These and other WASP songs are available on Marching Songs of the WASP by Nancy Parrish & The Kappa Kappa Gamma Singers.

Lyrics courtesy of Texas Woman's University, U.S. Army Air Corps Living History Group, and Wings Across America.